Recently, I was interviewed by the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation about The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur Forum, of which they are a sponsor. Following is the transcript of the interview. I have been a Board Member of this tremendous organization for the past 4 years.
CONNECTpreneur recently entered our 9th year. To date, we have hosted 47 events, the last 4 being “virtual” events. Over 20,000 business leaders, investors, and entrepreneurs from around the world have attended our events. Our website is connectpreneur.org. Please check us out!
THE BIG IDEA
IN CONVERSATION WITH TIEN WONG, CEO, OPUS8, AND
FOUNDER & HOST, CONNECTPRENEUR
Get to know CONNECTpreneur, a unique forum which attracts the region’s top entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and game changers. Organizers of the top tech and investor networking events in the region.
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT TO MAKE CONNECTIONS BETWEEN BUSINESS LEADERS OF ALL STRIPES – CEOS, VCS AND ANGELS – TO EARLY STAGE COMPANIES?
Not just for early stage companies, but all businesses of all sizes, the old adage, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know,” still applies very relevantly. People want to do business with people. Early stage companies, in particular, have many needs: capital, talent, customers, vendors, partners, product development, marketing, etc. and having a large and deep network gives an entrepreneur a huge advantage in the marketplace, for obvious reasons. There is a proven correlation between the size and quality of one’s network, and one’s overall success — in entrepreneurship and most endeavors.
WHAT IS THE SECRET SAUCE THAT MAKES CONNECTPRENEUR A TOP TECH NETWORKING EVENT IN THE REGION?
It’s our ability to attract the region’s top entrepreneurs, investors, innovators and game changers. We pride ourselves on organizing the top tech and investor networking events in Montgomery County and the Washington region as a whole. We think that the reason that over 70% of our surveyed attendees rate CONNECTpreneur as the “number one” tech and networking event in the Mid-Atlantic region is because of the high quality and seniority of our attendees, which is unprecedented. Over 20% of our attendees are accredited angel investors or VCs, over half are CEOs and founders, and we intentionally keep the ratio of service providers as low as possible. This makes for more meaningful connectivity among the participants.
HOW DOES CONNECTPRENEUR SUPPORT FEMALE ENTREPRENEURS AND ENTREPRENEURS OF COLOR?
CONNECTpreneur is very intentional about providing a diverse set of presenters and speakers in our programming. Our community of entrepreneurs and investors is highly diverse, and our selection committee is very tuned in to the benefits of gender and cultural diversity. We actively work with and partner with local, regional, and national players who share our values of “double bottom line” ethics which value social impact as well as financial gain. Some of our partners include Maryland Tech Council, TEDCO, Startup Grind, Founder Institute, Halcyon and Conscious Venture Labs to name a few.
WHY IS MONTGOMERY COUNTY A GOOD LOCATION FOR AN INNOVATIVE STARTUP COMPANY? AND, WHAT’S YOUR BEST ADVICE FOR SUCCESS?
Montgomery County is a top tier County nationally for startups, and that’s evidenced by numerous awesome success stories. MoCo has a tremendously educated talent base, world class government institutions, top schools, and a large base of angel and high net worth private investors who can provide seed funding. The best advice for success is to understand thoroughly your customer and their needs and pain points very deeply. That way you can get to “product market fit” more quickly, de-risk your opportunity, and be more capital efficient. Too many companies get enamored with their product and design, or culture, or getting media coverage whereas the true essence of any successful business is to provide excellent products and solutions to its customers and sell into their markets like crazy.
WHAT ARE SOME UNIQUE CHARACTERISTICS OF AN EARLY STAGE COMPANY THAT SPARK YOUR INTEREST TO EXTEND AN INVITE TO PARTICIPATE IN THE FORUM?
We are looking for presenting companies which have truly disruptive ideas, products and/or solutions which could be sold into huge markets. And of course, the most important criteria are the quality, expertise, and coachability of the founding team. We have had presenters from all kinds of sectors including life sciences, cyber, telecom, blockchain, wireless, mobility, e-commerce, marketplaces, fintech, medical devices, IoT, etc.
Learn more about CONNECTpreneur at our website: connectpreneur.org
This is a Guest blog post from Jeff Cherry, Founder and Managing Partner of The Conscious Venture Fund and Founding Partner of The Laudato Si Startup Challenge. He is a tech CEO and mentor, investor, philanthropist, and community builder.
I recently listened to a thought-provoking episode of the TED Radio Hour on NPR entitled What We Value. Its premise was that this economic and societal crisis in which we find ourselves is accelerating the move towards a new set of values when it comes to the practice of capitalism. Those of us in the social impact and Conscious Capitalism space are heartened to see this discussion gaining momentum, but the question remains: How will capitalism change now that the unhealthy state of business and our major societal institutions have been laid bare?
There are many indications that this shift was in the offing far before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Although late to the game, the statement released by the Business Roundtable in August 2019 signaled a transformative move away from the outdated notion of shareholder primacy and towards a more human and effective form of business. It certainly garnered the attention of the press. And others in the business mainstream who had been either unaware or hostile to the market forces driving this change, are now finding it hard to ignore discussions of stakeholder management and whether business should have a broader role in society.
These ever-expanding discussions about the purpose of business in society are now taking place in the context of what does a return to “normal” look like in the economy. And a growing sentiment that the normal we were experiencing — where greed, inequity, declining living standards, crony capitalism, rent-seeking, regulatory capture, share buy-backs, corporate welfare and environmental depletion were the norm — isn’t in fact normal. Nor a state of being for which we should collectively yearn. As you might imagine, I agree.
The challenge we face now then, is how do we actually execute on this new idea? Many people talk about business for good and changing the purpose of the firm. But in the real world of competitive advantage, pricing models, customer needs, shareholder demands, supplier, employee and community relationships, knowing what to do is hard. We speak to entrepreneurs all the time who are philosophically aligned with a new narrative about business. They can cite anecdotes about others who have been successful, and they lack a cognitive frame that they can use to build an organization that embodies this day-in and day-out.
I’ve written at length about why I believe a focus on stakeholders in business and capitalism needs to replace the old story. In this article, the first of a two-part series, I’ll describe a framework to begin the journey to business as an institute of societal well-being: Or Human Capitalism.
The New Narrative of Business in Society: Human Capitalism What does a new story about the practice of business and capitalism look like in practical terms?
In order to fully bring this new narrative to life, I believe we need to re-define the purpose of business as a societal institution. Then, we need to translate that definition into tools that real entrepreneurs and executives can use every day to guide how they formulate strategy, individual decision making and implementation.
When a new cohort of the Conscious Venture Lab convenes, I ask a question to frame the work we’ll be doing over the ensuing 16-weeks: “What kind of world could we create if investors, executives and entrepreneurs cared as much about people as they care about profit?” It isn’t a question I expect any of the teams to answer outright. It’s a rhetorical challenge to think about how these ideas impact their businesses and the broader society.
Over the last few months, I’ve reframed that question: What kind of world could we create if we decided our first duty in business was to simply care for each other? This is the essence of Human Capitalism.
This version of the question doesn’t pit people against profit, which I believe is a false construct. Instead, it captures the meaning we’re all experiencing in this moment: can we be a complete society if the overarching purpose of business is only to increase profits and not primarily to improve the human condition? Both of these questions are variations of the age-old investigation of “What is a business for?” Academics, economists, politicians, social scientists and businesspeople have been asking this question for decades, if not longer.
Liesel Pritzker Simmons, co-founder of the impact investing firm Bluehaven Initiative, has said, “A crisis gives us an excuse to have conviction earlier.” What we are experiencing in this moment has emphasized how interconnected we are as a society and as a world. It has emphasized the importance of health as a public imperative. The importance of economic, community and personal resiliency as interdependent societal imperatives to which individuals and all societal institutions, even businesses, need to contribute. This crisis is bringing along those who may not have reached a level of conviction to move to a more human form of capitalism had things stayed … normal.
In this new reality it’s clear that the question about what type of world we want to create can no longer remain abstract or rhetorical. The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the truth, that a focus on our interdependent well-being is necessary for society’s survival. Succeed together or fail together the choice is ours, but we can no longer hide behind a narrative that separates individual financial self-interest from our mutual survival.
In the post-COVID world, the new narrative of business in society is a narrative about authentic caring, societal resilience and collective well-being.
Practical Ways to Integrate Human Capitalism Herb Kelleher, the legendary founder of Southwest Airlines, once said, “The business of business is people — yesterday, today and forever….” But what does it actually mean to structure your business around people? What can you do tomorrow to transform the structure of your business, respond to this new reality and become the type of leader that society needs?
Caring is Job 1: Above all there is one thing leaders must do first in order to be successful in this new world: They must actually care! To be clear, leaders who embrace the idea of caring for stakeholders as a core value and primary motivation for running a business will be well-positioned to succeed in this new world. They’ll be more able to execute on the ideas described later in this article and more likely to attract talent, customers and investors in a post-COVID world of business as a vital instrument of society.
At first this seems obvious and perhaps, some would say, no different than the status quo. But the nuance of authentically treating employees, suppliers, customers and communities as individuals deserving of your care for their own sake, as opposed to primarily as fodder for creating returns is critically important. Not only to how your company will be perceived, but authentic caring — or the lack thereof — will have a tremendous impact on your competitive performance. People understand instinctively if you are treating them fairly simply as a form of manipulation for other ends. And, unless you’ve created a true culture of caring in your organization, you’ll be tempted to abandon that care when it comes into conflict with your “real goals.” The best leaders however will understand this simple truth: how we think about creating financial value is now, more than ever, clearly tied to the way we create societal value. Authentically caring is a key component of this new narrative.
With that as our foundation, there are two things that every leader can do to build caring into the operational DNA of their business:
First, adopt a specific set of guiding principals about what it means to care for each other in service of societal well-being. And second,
Institute a practical business operating system that provides a framework for living into those guiding principals.
Here in Part-1, I’ll discuss a set of guiding principles we’ve created at the Conscious Venture Lab to help entrepreneurs execute upon these cultures of caring.
Guiding Principles: The Five Promises of Collective Well-Being In order to seed this new culture of caring into the DNA of your operations, it is crucially important that you articulate and codify a set of guiding principles that the entire company can use to organize your thought processes and create operating norms, policies, procedures and metrics that will keep your culture on track in good times and in challenging times…like during a pandemic.
Companies that will lead us into a more effective model of capitalism and a future of broadly-shared prosperity have structured their business to deliver on what I call The Five Promises of Collective Well-Being, through which we vow to use business to make the world:
More sustainable and
More prosperous for all.
Let’s examine each principle:
Business as a path to a More Just society: Leaders who are best at this will work to create social justice by structuring their organizations to level the playing field and authentically create access to opportunity for all those in their ecosystem who want to contribute.
Conscious Venture Lab and SHIFT Ventures portfolio companies Hungry Harvest and R3 Score have built this promise into their business models, which drives impact and returns.
Hungry Harvest creates a more just world by providing fresh food to communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access to it and dignified work opportunities to people in need. As a result, they create scores of “Harvest Heroes” who loyally buy wholesome food from the company that otherwise would have gone to waste. In the process they have increase sales by more than 34,000% over the last 4 years.
R3Score creates a more just world by providing a dignified return to civil society for millions of formerly incarcerated Americans and allowing banks a way to engage with people they would otherwise ignore. Thereby expanding the banks’ customer base, putting financial assets to work that would otherwise lay fallow and giving the 1-in-3 Americans with a criminal record the opportunity to build a new life.
Business as a path to a More Joyous life: Leaders who bring more joy into the world will do so by focusing on a combination of the quality of the human interactions in their operations, eliminating misery as a core aspect of their business and/or creating products that bring authentic joy to more lives.
One of my personal favorite companies, Union Square Hospitality Group, uses a culture of caring and enlightened hospitality to bring joy to employees, customers and suppliers alike.
Startup Aqus Water, that was a part of the Vatican Laudato Si Challenge in 2017, has created a product that puts “three years of clean water in the palm of (the) hand(s)” of people in places where lack of clean water has been causing extreme hardship for centuries. With more than 780 MM people in the world lacking access to clean water, bringing joy will undoubtedly bring prosperity to many.
Business as a path to More Equitable communities: When leaders focus on creating a mutual exchange of value between all stakeholders, they move their organizations away from the negative consequences of shareholder primacy and create more equitable communities for everyone. Paradoxically, an equitable approach to business, or removing the shareholder blinders, often creates new paths to greater value for shareholders.
Greyston Bakery in Yonkers New York is a pioneer of open hiring. They create a more equitable world by focusing not on the tyranny of weeding people out in the hiring process but by providing the dignity of work to anyone who wants it.
Here in Baltimore, Jacob Hsu and his company Catalyte have created an entirely new way of identifying undervalued individuals who have the aptitude to become exceptional engineers. Creating new paths to equity and unleashing massive financial potential for communities, his clients and the company.
Business as a path to a More Sustainable world: The winning leaders of the new narrative think and plan for the long-term. They understand that sustainability in every sense is the key to enduring organizational health. They establish a circle of growth for the planet, the people who serve or are served by the organization and the organization itself.
Billion-dollar clothing company Patagonia has rejected the world of “fast fashion” by creating high quality, long-lasting products and offering a repair and reuse program to discourage customers from buying things they don’t need.
Business as a path to a More Prosperous existence for us all: The best leaders view value creation with a polarity, or both/and mindset. They actively look to create real wealth for employees, customers, communities, suppliers and shareholders. They work to manage the polarity of creating value for all stakeholders by asking themselves questions like: “How do we simultaneously achieve the upside of paying our employees as much as possible, and, the upside of creating great returns for shareholders?” This is in contrast to shareholder value leaders who see all stakeholder relationships as tradeoffs that need to be solved for the benefit of shareholders.
Starbucks has fed more than 10 million people through its FoodShare program, redoubled its commitment to eliminate gender pay equity gaps, and committed to becoming “… resource positive — storing more carbon than we emit, eliminating waste and providing more clean fresh water than we use …” — all while rewarding shareholders handsomely — even during the coronavirus pandemic.
Why Human CAPITALISM? In Part-2 of this series I will discuss how the tenets of Conscious Capitalism and stakeholder management will allow organizations to clear the clutter and build these principles into everyday operations.
For now, a note before we end to my main audience: The Skeptics:
I spend the majority of every waking hour thinking about how to support entrepreneurs who have previously been neglected and who are creating world changing companies despite the immense hurdles they face. I also spend a majority of that time thinking about how to invest on behalf of my limited partners in a way that will create exceptional returns. I am a capitalist who believes capitalism can and should be practiced in a way that unleashes its power to elevate all humanity. That we can create a more humane form of commerce and human cooperation. What I am suggesting is that capitalism, like any man-made system, must evolve as society evolves. To paraphrase my friend and mentor Ed Freeman, professor at the Darden School at The University of Virginia, the alternative to capitalism as we know it today is not socialism, but a better, more human form of capitalism.
For those who would push back on these ideas as leaving shareholders behind and giving away profits I would simply ask you to suspend disbelief for a bit. Take a few minutes to think not about what you might lose, but about what you might gain. What kind of world could we create if we decided our first duty in business was to care for each other? Look around…I think that time has come.
Jeff Cherry, is CEO and Managing Partner of SHIFT Ventures, and Founder & Executive Director of Conscious Venture Lab, an award-winning and internationally recognized early stage accelerator. He is also Founder and Managing Partner of The Conscious Venture Fund and Founding Partner of The Laudato Si Startup Challenge. Jeff is a pioneer in conscious capitalism and double bottom-line investing. He can be reached at email@example.com.
This is a Guest blog post by Kerry Moynihan, Partner at Boyden.
WHY LEADERSHIP MATTERS MORE THAN EVER
A Very Brief History of Private Equity
The origins of today’s private equity industry (which I would define as including both venture capital and leveraged buyouts) date to 1946 with the foundations of American Research & Development Corp. (ARDC) & J. H. Whitney. Prior, risk capital had almost exclusively been the domain of wealthy families. Venture capital pioneers Mayfield and Kleiner Perkins were founded in 1969 and 1972, respectively. In the buyout realm, the origins of LBO pioneers KKR began at Bear Stearns with “bootstrap” investments in the early 1970s, forming the foundation of the firm as we know it today. TH Lee; Forstmann Little; Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe; and GTCR were all in operation by 1980 and became major players. The modern private equity business continued to emerge in the 1980s with the realization that there were major discrepancies between public company management interests, the age old “agency problem” and the values that could be unleashed were business units to be decoupled from large public companies. The year 1980 saw some $2.5 billion raised dedicated to the emerging alternative asset class and in the decade that followed nearly $22 billion was raised by venture and buyout funds.
The wide availability of junk bond financing fueled a boom during the 1980s, followed by a crash as the stock market tanked in October 1987. High yield financing, or “junk bonds,” dried up for a time, and Drexel Burnham, the leading purveyor of these instruments, later went down. However, institutional investors had certainly picked up on the higher returns available to PE than in the public markets.
Key to these were the availability of debt financing, the disparity between management that were merely salaried and those that were incentivized by equity, and the discrepancy between public and private market information. For much of the next two decades private equity vastly outperformed the public markets. Clearly, the emergence of technological innovation in software, semiconductors, and telecom fueled the venture side, while widespread industry consolidation and globalization largely propelled the LBO market.
As ever more money flowed into pensions and other institutional investor funds, the demand for higher yields accelerated. This put more capital into the financial markets seeking higher returns and the boom continued. Of course there were blips and shocks, including the Foreign Debt crisis of 1997/98, the bursting of the dotcom bubble around 2000, the cessation of normal market activity following the 9/11 attacks, and perhaps most seriously, the major Financial Crisis after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns in 2008.
However, markets rebounded, time and time again. Institutional capital, which seems to have a short collective memory, always seeks ever higher levels of Alpha (relative return) and will accommodate Beta (risk), often in unison, seemingly without independent, objective decision-making.
Institutionalization & Growth of the PE Industry
Funds were usually (relatively) small and privately held, and made individualized, partner-driven investment decisions. Yet as their size has increased, and in many cases the larger funds went out to the public markets, the industry has fundamentally changed. Now publicly traded, firms like Apollo, Blackstone The Carlyle Group, and others are, as the co-founder of one confessed to me “No longer in the business of making extraordinary, outsized returns on unique investments. We are now in the asset management business. If we can beat the S&P by 150 basis points and put huge sums to work from institutional investors, we are happy and the investors are happy.“ With the traditional model of a 2% management fee on assets under management (AUM) and 20% capture of the return on investment, the carried interest, who would not be?
Where a billion dollar fund was once considered a large player, there were over 350 by 2018 and even more today. There has been a veritable explosion in investment in the sector, as uninvested cash, or “dry powder“ at PE firms exceeded $1.5 trillion by the end of 2019. Blackstone alone, the Wall Street Journal reported, had $150 billion in cash to invest at the end of last year. Institutional Investor reported in July 2019 that 4000 funds were seeking to raise an additional $980 billion, up from 1385 funds seeking to raise $417 billion just four years earlier.
Yet in the 2010s the number of publicly traded companies stayed roughly the same while global AUM for PE firms and the number of PE-backed companies doubled, according to McKinsey & Co. It comes down to simple economics as more money is chasing fewer good assets, hence driving up prices, and reducing returns. S&P reported in November 2019 that the average pro forma EBITDA multiple was 12.9, up over 30% from pre-Financial Crisis pricing. The massive leverage, low prices, and eye-popping returns of the 1980s are but a memory. What is a simple fund to do?
Adding Operating Expertise
Importantly, funds have changed their own internal structures over the last several decades. Almost no funds had seriously tenured operating executives as part of their investment teams in the 1980s, being almost exclusively comprised of “recovering investment bankers.” The 1990s saw a bit of a change, but now almost every major fund has hired people who have more than an investment banking/finance background and have been senior operating executives who have actually run P&Ls. In many cases these are actual full partners in the funds, as the Silicon Valley venture capital community was quicker to adopt this model, typically by adding tech CEOs to their rosters, than the Wall Street LBO community. Many are termed Operating Partners or Management Associates, but whatever the nomenclature, there has been a collective recognition that strictly financial engineering and financing skills are necessary, but not sufficient, to create outsized shareholder returns.
Most of my clients and many of my good friends are private equity professionals. Without naming names, an informal survey confirms the general thesis that by training they are not prepared to run the businesses that they buy. Increasingly they recognize these facts, despite being “the smartest person in the room“ on virtually any topic (sic), in the not so distant past.
Where Are We and Where Are We Going
Fast forward to today, the late 2010s and early 2020s. The game has changed significantly, to say the least. Not surprisingly, many of the factors that led to the tremendous success of the industry in years past have changed dramatically. There is a changing reality and investment firms have, with varying degrees of success, made adjustments. For example:
Financial engineering is no longer adequate.
Given the low interest rate environment of recent years, and explosion of alternative lenders such as credit funds, beyond the traditional large banks, a giant fund enjoys little advantage over a smaller one on the availability of financing or borrowing terms. And, let’s face it, even if KKR or TPG can borrow at 25 basis points lower and with slightly less restrictive covenants than XYZ Capital Partners can, that factor alone is unlikely to be the deciding factor between the success or failure of an investment.
Globalization of the industry
Where venture capital and leveraged buyouts were virtually exclusively a US phenomenon just a few decades ago, today according to various studies, only about 55% of global private equity activity is in North America today. While Africa and Latin America are somewhat underrepresented, Europe and Asia are booming in this respect and the former may well catch up over time. It has become, as in so many industries, a much more competitive, truly international playing field.
Ubiquity of information has changed the game
The asymmetry of information that led to smart buyers and uninformed sellers is simply no longer the case. The incredible proliferation of information and ease of access on a global basis means that sellers, even of relatively small and unsophisticated businesses, have a much better handle on the overall market than in the past. An investment banker friend and I have a running joke that Old Uncle Burt, selling his cornfield in Iowa, knows that he can command 7.8 to 9.3 times EBITDA these days and will have five buyers lined up! In short, because of this the market is much more ruthlessly efficient, further evidenced by the dramatic expansion in the number of deals done and in the ever higher multiples paid for them.
The Model Still Works
The increased volatility of public markets, however, continues to make private equity attractive. What was once termed an alternative investment is certainly now very much in the mainstream for most sophisticated investors. However, the delta in returns between public markets and private markets have flagged in the last several years. As Bain & Co. noted in its 2020 Private Equity Report, “10-year public market returns match PE returns for the first time.”
Yet the current crisis, at the same time akin to the ones we seem to have every five or 10 years, and on the other hand of unprecedented scope, has obviously put an enormous dent in the wealth accumulated in the stock market. The ability to be patient and not have to respond to quarter-by-quarter earnings can allow private equity investors to take a more strategic, long-term view and ride out much of the fickle fluctuations of the financial markets.
This may seem a bit ironic, since most PE funds would love to be in and out of investments in a 3 to 5 year timeframe if possible. But with the public markets bouncing as violently as they are, private equity will remain a very attractive industry, both for Limited Partners as institutional investors and General Partners, the PE funds, as the custodians and direct investors of those funds.
Executive Leadership Matters, Now More Than Ever
Over time, more and more funds have gone to a model of backing individual executives or executive teams in what I call the “Back-able, Bankable Leadership“ model, or BBL. Both venture and buyout funds have increasingly backed executive leadership that has had prior success and will continue to do so. The proverbial “Holy Grail“ for investment funds is to find management teams that are proven and have as close to a proprietary idea as possible. By this I mean either a specific target company(ies) for acquisition or a well-developed investment thesis with demonstrable potential acquisition targets.
How much better to create a situation where you have an organic genesis of an investment, rather than competing in a broad auction scenario against many other funds. In the latter case, the “winner” of an auction may be successful in acquiring a business, but a loser as an investor, having paid too high a price at the outset.
An old saw in investing circles is that “You are more likely to win by backing an ‘A’ management team with a ‘B’ plan over a ‘B’ management team with an ‘A’ quality plan.“ At no time has this been more true than today, as many firms actually have to reinvent their business models on the fly. As we face unparalleled turbulence in the markets, especially given the latest crisis, never has leadership, true leadership, been at more of a premium. Operational excellence, coupled with the genuine ability to inspire, will always be valued. In short, today it is more critical than ever to actually run businesses better.
Effective executive leadership makes all the difference. It certainly makes me quite sanguine about the prospects for the executive search industry in partnering with private equity clients to create value. Successful investors invest in superior management and leadership, especially when competition is greater than ever and times are uncertain, to say the least!
Kerry Moynihan is a Partner at Boyden. He has had a distinguished career of more than 30 years in executive search, making a significant impact on client organizations through strategic talent acquisition and development. Working across a range of industries, he specializes in partnering with boards of directors as well as private equity firms and the C-suite executives of their portfolio companies to deliver for investors. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Demonstrating to investors that your business model is sustainable, especially in times of uncertainty or jarring disruption, like we’re facing now with the Coronavirus pandemic, can give you the edge you need to get funded. In my previous article, “Now’s the Time to Get Your Business Funded: Coronavirus Edition,” I highlighted the fact that savvy investors are still looking for great investment opportunities. Those great opportunities include investing in both the idea and the one with whom the idea originated.
Pitch Sustainability In Any Market
As part of your funding story and pitch deck, it is important in today’s environment to present the ways in which you can navigate operating the business and even excelling despite quarantines and partial lockdowns being in place. Some sustainability concepts to consider include:
Business Model – Where does your business reside along the industry vertical or value chain?
Sales Model – How do you interact with and sell to customers (i.e., brick-and-mortar, direct sales, e-commerce)
Organization Model – What is the composition of your workforce? Do you require staff to be on premises? Are you dependent on contractors or outsourced partners?
Product or Service Offering – Is your offering something that will be of value during a major disruptive social or economic event?
Materials Supply – Will shutdowns like we are experiencing now impact your ability to obtain the raw materials, inputs, and supplies required to deliver your product to market?
Expertise – Who on your leadership team or advisory board has the experience and expertise in helping organizations navigate through crises and times of instability?
Finances and Cost Structure – Do you have a lean enough cost structure and a good enough understanding of the financials to ensure a proper runway for funding to growth?
Employee and Customer Sentiment – Do you have a clear understanding of the mindset your target customer has during “regular” times versus during a crisis like we’re facing today? What about your employees…do you know how a crisis will impact their ability to effectively deliver for your customers?
New Marketing or Channel Opportunities – Have you explored changes you can make to your product offering, pricing, payment terms, customer segments, delivery methods, marketing strategies, partnerships, and co-branding initiatives that would better meet the needs of the market during a crisis?
Investors want to invest in people with great ideas, but even more so with those who understand how to bring those great ideas to the market, whatever condition that market is in, successfully. Show them that you and your team have that expertise as part of your funding story and pitch deck. Now is the time, because if not now, when?
To learn more on how to create an epic fundraising story for digital presentations to investors, contact me for a complimentary consultation by phone at 314-578-0958 or by email at email@example.com.
Ines LeBow is the CEO, Transformation Executive for ETS. She is a known catalyst for business operations, bringing 30+ years of hands-on experience. Ines has a long history of being recruited into senior executive roles to improve the execution of business operations and to drive revenue growth. You can see her LinkedIn Profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ineslebow, view the ETS website at http://www.transformationsolutions.pro, or email her directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The event is regarded by many as “The Best Networking Event in DC.” InTheCapital calls CONNECTpreneur a “NETWORKING JACKPOT” of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs.
Heavy NETWORKING before, during, and after the event
The venue is the Tysons Corner Marriott in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia. A plated breakfast is included. CONNECTpreneur is a quarterly networking mashup, which has been attended by over 2500 business leaders in the past 3 years. We expect another SELL OUT crowd, so there will be no on-site registration.
The Big Idea CONNECTpreneur FALL Forum is a “NETWORKING MASHUP” of 210+ of the DC Region’s TOP Entrepreneurs, Business Leaders, CXOs, Angels, and VCs. Most of the attendees are “INVITATION ONLY,” and we are limiting service provider participation in order to maximize the experience for our Attendees and Sponsors.
Presented by LORE Systems, this UNIQUE EVENT is like NONE OTHER in our region, due to the high quality of our attendees and participants, as well as our program and unprecedented networking.
Come see what happens when you put a group of “A List” business leaders and entrepreneurs in one room for a few hours!
Over 210 attendees, includng 120+ CEOs/Presidents and 40 angels/VCs
Over 120 CEOs/Presidents, plus 40+ angel and VC investors including New Enterprise Associates, Novak Biddle, Core Capital, CIT, Blu Venture Investors, Blue Water Capital, Dingman Center Angels, Neuberger & Co. Ventures, Saratoga Investment Corp., Washington DC Archangels, Angel Venture Forum, Fortify.vc, Endeavor DC, Maryland Venture Fund, National Capital Companies, Enhanced Capital, White Hall Capital, MTECH Ventures, Mosaic Capital, Opus8, VentureCross Partners, McLean Capital, Starise Ventures, Blue Heron Capital, Duncaster Investments, Private Capital Network, Next-Stage Development Group, Berman Enterprises, Grindstone Partners, Next Stage Development Group, Atlantic Capital Group, Lancaster Angel Network, Harrell Partners, Stanford Venture Advisors, MD Center for Entrepreneurship, Skada Capital, Great Falls Capital, Bayberry Capital, Hafezi Capital, Keiretsu Forum, and CADRE.
Last week, the State of Maryland became the first state in the USA to use an online auction to raise funds for a venture capital program. The auction yielded $84 million, a whopping 20% more than the original forecasted goal of $70 million. On September 24, 2011, I wrote a brief summary of the InvestMaryland program.
InvestMaryland will invest in the State’s promising start-up and early stage companies, as early as this summer. The $84 million raised was generated through an online auction of premium tax credits to 11 insurance companies (including Hartford Insurance, New York Life, Chubb, GEICO, and Met Life) with operations in Maryland. The inaugural round of investments will be made in innovative companies this summer through several private venture capital firms and the State’s successful Maryland Venture Fund (MVF),
Said Governor Martin O’Malley, “Our State is well-positioned to be a leader in the new economy as a global hub of innovation – a leader in science, security, health, discovery and information technology. That’s why last year, together with business leaders from across the State and the General Assembly, we chose to invest in our diverse and highly-educated workforce and the skills and talents of our people for the jobs and opportunity of tomorrow.”
Earlier this year, the Authority selected Grant Street Group to prepare for and run the tax credit auction and also recently selected Altius Associates, a London-based firm, to oversee the selection of three to four private venture firms to invest the InvestMaryland funds. The private venture firms will be responsible for investing two-thirds of the funds, which will return 100 percent of the principal and 80 percent of the profits to the State’s general fund. The remaining 33 percent will be invested by 17-year-old Maryland Venture Fund (MVF). The Maryland Small Business Development Financing Authority (MSBDFA) will also receive a portion of funds for investment. Returns on the funds invested through the MVF will be reinvested in the program.
InvestMaryland has the potential to create thousands of jobs in Innovation Economy sectors – life sciences and biotechnology, cyber security/IT and clean/green tech and attract billions of follow on capital.
Maryland has an outstanding infrastructure to support an Innovation Economy. The Milken Institute ranks Maryland #2 in the nation for technology and science assets. According to study results, while Maryland received high rankings in human capital investment, research and development inputs, technology and science workforce, and technology concentration and dynamism, it lagged behind other states in risk capital and entrepreneurial infrastructure, demonstrating the need for InvestMaryland and other programs.
How will Altius select the Venture Capital firms? Altius will be evaluating venture capital funds based on management experience, firm experience, investment performance and criteria defined in the legislation.
When will the firms be selected? Venture capital firms will be selected starting June/July 2012 for a projected18-month period and make first round of investments in summer 2012.
What is the investment return to the State? The selected venture firms will return 100 percent of the principal investment by the State before taking any distribution of profits and will then pay 80 percent of the profits to the State. Any returns on investments made through the Maryland Venture Fund go back into the fund for an evergreen program.
What is the projected average investment with venture capital companies? Investment will likely range from as low as $250,000 upwards to $10M.
Is there investment funding available from MVF?Maryland Venture Fund will continue to invest in early stage companies (tech, biotech, clean energy) from $50,000 to $500,000 as initial investments.
Maryland Venture Fund Authority (MVFA) will perform a monitoring role to ensure that investments and reporting meet the legislative guidelines.
In summary, as a member of the MVFA, and as a resident and business owner in Maryland, I am very excited to see this InvestMaryland program being implemented:
This program brings great benefit for taxpayers. It helps create the jobs and companies of tomorrow and builds an economic climate where the most promising ideas and innovations have a chance to mature.
This is a win-win for all constituencies within the State of Maryland. Through this initiative, we can:
Infuse much needed capital into our seed and early stage companies
Recapitalize the State’s successful Maryland Venture Fund
Ensure no up-front cost to taxpayers
Provide a tax benefit to insurance companies who bid today, who can begin claiming credits in 2015.
Thanks for reading. I’d appreciate any Comments or feedback you may have on InvestMaryland.
John Backus, Managing Partner of New Atlantic Ventures, Founder of Draper Atlantic Venture Fund, former CEO, InteliData
1:15 pm – MORE NETWORKING AND DEALMAKING
CONFIRMED PARTICIPANTS (partial list):
Over 110 Entrepreneurs and CXOs, plus another 40+ angels and VCs including Core Capital, Novak Biddle, New Atlantic Ventures, CIT, Capital Source, NEA, Maryland Venture Fund, MAVA, MTECH Ventures, Maryland DBED, Ruxton Ventures, Opus8, VentureCross Partners, McLean Capital, National Capital, Starise Ventures, Dingman Center Angels, Blu Venture Partners, Blue Heron, Washingon DC Archangels, Fortify.vc, Endeavor DC, Private Capital Network, APPTEL, Stanford Venture Advisors, MD Center for Entrepreneurship, SunWalker Group, Skada Capital, Keiretsu Forum, CADRE.
This is a groundbreaking effort by the State of Maryland, and I applaud all of the various business and political constituencies who made this happen.
The State plans to raise at least $70 million by auctioning off tax credits to insurance companies. About 2/3 of these proceeds will be invested into private venture capital funds, and 1/3 will be given to the Maryland Venture Fund, which will in turn invest in emerging companies in industried such as information technology, clean energy, and life sciences, among others.
Maryland is not the first state to employ this idea. Eleven other states already have programs similar to InvestMaryland. The expected benefit from InvestMaryland, according to some, is the creation of 2000+ new jobs while supporting at least 200 businesses.
I am encouraged by these kinds of initiatives and would love to see more states embrace these kinds of public-private efforts to stimulate capital formation, and help create jobs and nurture new technologies and emerging companies.
Thank you for reading. Let me know your thoughts about the InvestMaryland program or other ways in which technologies and small businesses can be supported. And please sign up for my Blog!
Two weeks ago, I had the good fortune of having my Blog post on Warren Buffettfeatured on WordPress.com’s home page. Out of over 400,000 blog posts per day, WordPress features only 10 in its Freshly Pressed section. I have no idea how my post was selected, but I bet it had to do with Mr Buffett’s popularity, especially in light of the recent turbulence in the stock market.
1. Risk can be greatly reduced by concentrating on only a few holdings. Business application: FOCUS! Every company has limited human and capital resources, so concentrate your efforts on a few key areas rather than trying to “boil the ocean.”
2. Stop trying to predict the direction of the stock market, the economy, interest rates, or elections. Business application: STAY THE COURSE. Once you have made a business decision to go in a particular direction, stay focused on that direction and tune out the inappropriate noise. If you are sure in your decision and it has been made rationally with good information, then eventually it will pay off.
3. Be fearful when others are greedy and greedy only when others are fearful. Business application: BE CONTRARIAN. More money can be made in business by NOT following the “conventional wisdom.” Trends move from one end of the pendulum to the other, so when the crowds are strongly of one opinion, then it could be time to make money by taking the opposing view. For example, just 5 years ago, the “experts” thought the datacenter industry was stagnant. There was a glut in capacity, and pessimism all around. The smart contrarian entrepreneur who could see the tidal wave of virtualization and cloud computing was coming, made money by investing heavily in datacenters.
4. The ability to say “no” is a tremendous advantage for an investor. Business application: Concentrate, focus, and don’t get distracted. The ability to say “no” is also a tremendous advantage for a business person. Steve Jobs, for one, has always prided himself on saying “no” to things that did not fit his vision for Apple. It is natural for opportunistic business people and entrepreneurs to want to look at EVERY opportunity, but by saying yes to too many projects, you dilute your resources and your company’s energy.
5. An investor should act as though he had a lifetime decision card with just twenty punches on it. Business application: BE SUPER SELECTIVE! Imagine running your business knowing that you will only have 20 truly awesome ideas to bet on in your career! That’s only one every two years. Applying this advice means you must do your homework, be very diligent, and choose your projects very judiciously.
6. Always invest for the long term. Business application: Your goal is to create long term shareholder value, so plan and operate your business in a way to achieve this goal. Note that Mr. Buffett uses the word “always,” which is a very strong word. For me this is real wisdom. I see far too many business leaders make short term and medium term decisions which appear to make sense, but really do not. I agree with Mr. Buffett because, ultimately, all that really matters is the value created in the long term.
7. It is not necessary to do extraordinary things to get extraordinary results. Business application: You don’t always have to be the best. You can win big even if you are a little better than your competition. This is an excellent concept. Too many companies spend too much time and money trying to be perfect, when all they really need is to stand above their competitors. CyberRep operated in an industry with “C” players, and I always told our team that we would be successful if we were merely “B+” players. It worked.
Thanks for reading. Please comment below and let me know which concept resonates with you…and please sign up for my Blog too. You can find the signup box in the right column of my Blog’s Home Page.